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Cleveland Indians Top-10 Fantasy Prospects

At the 2016 trade deadline the Indians dealt several top prospects in exchange for playoff-hero Andrew Miller. Still, there’s a lot to like about this system.

Our Basis

With fantasy prospect rankings, the key to knowing the usefulness of a specific player is how large and deep of a league you would need to be in for them to end up as a fantasy starter. We will be ranking 10 prospects in each system, but that doesn't mean that every one of them is useful if you play in a 12-team mixed dynasty league. With that said, we're aiming to provide useful information whether you play in a 10-team mixed, a 15-team AL-only, or a 24-team mixed.

Prospect rankings also come with the same caveat that must be rehashed every year. They represent a snapshot of how we view the players at the time of publication. There will inherently be more information published throughout the off-season, and so how we view a player may evolve significantly over time. We're going to get some of these right, we're going to get some of these wrong, and in general my reminder is to find information you trust, and use it to your advantage. If that comes from us, that's great and we're happy you're here. If it doesn't, we'll continue to work and hope that you'll keep checking in to see how we're doing.

The Tiers

The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing players between different teams. It's by no means a perfect system, but the goal is to give you a general idea of which players we think are in a similar range in terms of value and ranking. Since the tiers are also expected to be relatively consistent across teams, there may be tiers that do not have prospects for certain teams.

Tier 1 - The Elite Prospects

These prospects are expected to be in the top-50 prospects overall, and have the potential to be among the top options at their position regardless of format or league size.

#1 - Bradley Zimmer (OF)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 24

ETA: 2017

A 2014 first-round pick out of the University of San Francisco, Zimmer has emerged as one of the top outfield prospects in all of baseball. In 2016, between Double-A and Triple-A, he slashed .250/.365/.425 with 15 HR and 38 SB. His power-speed potential alone made him the system’s top prospect once fellow OF Clint Frazier was traded to the Yankees. Fantasy owners who might be concerned about Zimmer’s average should consider that he batted .302 and .273, respectively, in 2014 and 2015, so there’s still reason to hope that his hit-tool will develop alongside his power and speed, making him an elite offensive player. It remains to be seen whether he will open 2017 in Cleveland or back at Triple-A Columbus. Either way, he is the Indians’ CF of the future.

Tier 2 - The Top 100 Candidates

These prospects are expected to be in the discussion for the top 100 prospects overall, and are expected to be starting options in all formats.

#2 - Triston McKenzie (RHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 19

ETA: 2019

Cleveland snagged McKenzie with the 42nd overall pick in the 2015 draft, and the young right-hander has dazzled ever since. He used as short-but-successful stint in rookie ball as a springboard into an outstanding 2016 season that saw him finish a combined 6-5 with a 1.62 ERA, 104 strikeouts and only 22 walks in 83.1 IP between short- and full-season A-ball. His 49:6 K:BB ratio in six starts with Low-A Lake County was particularly impressive. McKenzie throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup, all of which already grade as above-average. In every respect he has the look of a future frontline starter and, thanks to his ability to amass high strikeout totals, elite fantasy pitcher. Cleveland fans should get to Lake County early in 2017 if they hope to see McKenzie pitch, as he might not be there for long.

#3 - Brady Aiken

Age on Opening Day 2017: 20

ETA: 2019

Aiken’s ordeal as the unsigned, #1 overall pick in the 2014 draft has been well documented. In 2015 the Indians took a leap of faith and selected the injured young lefthander with the 17th pick. A year later, Aiken was back on the mound. His stats are less important than the fact that he made thirteen starts without incident. Assuming his injury woes are behind him, Aiken constitutes another future frontline starter for an organization rich in pitching. He has a fastball, curveball, and changeup, all of which can be plus pitches. Next season he’ll join McKenzie at the top of a formidable Low-A Lake County rotation.

#4 - Francisco Mejia (C)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 21

ETA: 2018

Mejia’s 50-game hitting streak was the talk of the summer, for it appeared to come out of nowhere. The young catcher finished 2016 with a .342 batting average, which was 99 points higher than his 2015 average. Splitting time between Low-A Lake County and High-A Lynchburg, Mejia also posted an .896 OPS with 11 HR. No question fantasy owners would take those numbers from their starting catcher. Based on his offensive development alone, Mejia should open 2017 at Double-A Akron.

#5 - Bobby Bradley (1B)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 20

ETA: 2018

One of the more underrated prospects in the Indians’ system, Bradley has done nothing but produce from the moment Cleveland selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft. As a teenager in 2015 he led the Midwest League with 27 HR. In 2016 his average dipped from .264 to .235, but his 29 HR and 102 RBI proved that his debut was no fluke. Fantasy owners also should be encouraged by his .361 career OBP, which is quite good for a power hitter who has yet to play a full season as a 20-year-old. He’ll head to Double-A Akron in 2017 and projects as the Indians’ first baseman/cleanup hitter of the future.

Tier 3 - The Next Group of Starters

These prospects would likely slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list, and would be starters in mid-depth formats, like 12 and 14 team leagues.

#6 - Will Benson (OF)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 18

ETA: 2020

Selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Benson offers power-speed potential that fantasy owners will find tantalizing. At 6’5”-225, and with outstanding bat speed, he already has plus raw power. Though he struggled a bit in his first taste of rookie ball, where he batted .209 with 60 strikeouts in 44 games, he did manage to hit 6 HR and steal 10 bases. Best of all, he will not turn 19 until June. If the Indians wish to challenge their young slugger, as they did with Bradley, they’ll assign him to Low-A Lake County in 2017.

#7 - Nolan Jones (3B)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 18

ETA: 2020

After drafting Benson in the first round of the 2016 draft, the Indians were thrilled to snag Jones, another advanced prep bat, in the second round. Like Benson, Jones has flashed plus raw power, though the young third baseman has yet to get to that power in games. Of the two, Benson has better power-speed potential, but Jones has the more advanced hit-tool, which could play anywhere on the diamond besides first base and right field. Jones, too, should open 2017 at Low-A Lake County.

Tier 4 - Single League and Deep Format Plays

These prospects would likely slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list, and would have the most value to mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.

#8 - Juan Hillman (LHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 19

ETA: 2019

A second-round pick in the 2015 draft, Hillman has the size (6’2-195) and pitchability to develop into a mid-rotation starter. He offers an above-average fastball-changeup combo with above-average control. The strikeouts haven’t yet come in big numbers, but there’s plenty of time for development; he does not turn 20 until May. In 2017 Hillman should join Aiken, McKenzie, Benson and Jones at Low-A Lake County.

#9 - Yu-Cheng Chang (SS)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 21

ETA: 2018

Like many of his Lynchburg teammates, Chang enjoyed a strong 2016 season. He slashed a respectable .259/.332/.463 while serving as the Hillcats’ everyday shortstop. Most intriguing of all, he managed to reach double-digits in both homers (13) and steals (11) in only 109 games. Fantasy owners would take those counting stats from a starting middle infielder. A switch-hitter, Chang offers an intriguing hit-tool and overall offensive skill set, and he’ll get every opportunity to continue to develop as a shortstop. An assignment to Double-A Akron awaits.

#10 - Anthony Santander (OF)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 22

ETA: 2018

Another Lynchburg stalwart, Santander served as the #3 hitter in a Hillcats’ batting order that also included Bradley, Chang, and OF Greg Allen, who narrowly missed making our list. In 2016 Santander enjoyed a breakout season. He slashed .290/.368/.494 with 20 HR and 95 RBI. He also added 10 steals. While he’s unlikely to develop into a 20-20 threat, his power and hit-tool combination will make him an intriguing fantasy sleeper as he moves up to Double-A Akron in 2017.